Being accused of a crime is a very harrowing experience, one in which almost every defendant would do nearly anything to defend himself/herself against the charges. Given that the defendant’s liberty is at stake, courts typically give the defendant a fair amount of leeway in presenting his/her argument in response to that of the prosecution, and an experienced criminal defense attorney will know exactly what evidence should be used and, more importantly, how to use it. Recently, the California Supreme Court held that social media companies must provide a criminal defendant with publicly-available user content. In this particular matter, the defendant wanted the social media content of one of the witnesses to the alleged crime to show bias, and the court noted that, in order to be able to mount a complete defense, the defendants should have access to this content. A discussion of this ruling, as well as how social media content can be used to help a criminal defendant, will follow below.
The Arguments of the Parties and the Court’s Holding
As mentioned above, the primary issue in this case was the right of criminal defendants, suspected of homicide, to access to the social media records of both the alleged victim and a witness to effectively prepare their case. Specifically, one defendant asserted that the witness, his former girlfriend, was biased because of jealousy and anger due to the defendant being with other women, and wants to use her social media posts to show this bias. The social media companies, on the other hand, claimed a federal privacy law prevents them from handing over these posts, and also argued t the defendants have other ways to get the material, such as by asking the witness herself or by receiving the material from the prosecution, who are required to turn over any exculpatory evidence to the defense. However, the defendants could not simply question the witness because she could not be located. In addition, the relevant information in the hands of the prosecution supported only the prosecutorial theory of the case, and not that of the defendants.
The California Supreme Court noted in its decision that the right to mount a defense trumps the federal privacy law, and held that, to the extent that the social media records are public, they must be made available to the defendants. It then directed the trial court to conduct an analysis to determine whether the records were, in fact, public, and, if so, to require the social media companies to disclose the requested material to the defendants. This ruling should make it easier for defendants to gain direct access to social media files and posts, though there may be complications over what constitutes “public” records, which is one reason why an experienced criminal defense attorney is so crucial to a favorable outcome.
Use of Social Media Material
As noted above, in the particular matter in front of the California Supreme Court, the defendants wished to use social media material to show the bias of, and thereby discredit, the witness. Additionally, the use of social media material can be used by a defendant to prove his/her whereabouts or to establish an alibi.
In other instances, social media material may be used against a defendant. For example, pictures of a defendant at a bar drinking on the same night he/she is arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol may be used to establish that fact. As another example, photographs of a defendant with stolen merchandise may also be used to establish that the defendant, in fact, stole that particular merchandise. In other words, social media content can be a double-edged sword in criminal prosecutions, and should only be presented under the guidance of a knowledgeable defense attorney.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
Mounting a successful defense in a criminal trial is difficult, and best left to an experienced criminal defense attorney. The Los Angeles attorneys at the Manshoory Law Group, APC are adept at defending against a wide variety of criminal offenses, and will use their expertise to build a defense to obtain the best possible results. Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us today for an initial consultation.